The Non-Buddhist version of emptiness…

As evening rolled along, a creeping moment of sadness opened up in my mind, filling the spaces with a sense of grief and exhaustion. As I sat in this moment and recognized these feelings a sense of emptiness pervaded and I felt stuck in a kind of void, an absence. This growing tremor of emptiness, of being numb to the circumstances that surround me is profoundly subtle in the day to day existence that is COVIDland.

The typical things that lift my spirits and the spirits of those around me failed to move the needle and as I made the Pumpkin Bread with my daughter, we both looked at each other and I realized, suddenly, that we were in the same moment; a moment where the experiences we have previously enjoyed felt hollow, lifeless, and without a moment of solace from the world around us. We were, together, caught in that very place of absence. It was and is very strange, and, honestly, quite common in the past few weeks.

A bit later that evening I cracked open the Rye Whiskey and hit the sauce, pouring a strong two fingers into a glass. I sipped rather than drank and sat attempting to release my tattered mind from the bonds of the day. As I sat and sipped, I did not feel the tension unwind in my back, and I stopped consuming the vile drink and turned to watching basketball. Too, the effort of the players on the court did not move me into reaction. That outlet, too, failed to revive my inner strength, my hopeful character lying there, waiting to be shocked into awareness.

The Rio Grande, Summer 2020

As I write these words, transcribed from my journal, it might FEEL like these words are an expression of depression. It’s hard to use words to describe the feeling, but I can say, pretty adamantly, that these moments are not about feeling “low” or “down”; they are about recognizing that the life we are leading is not really getting us to where we need to go. This emptiness is not the Buddhist emptiness that is a recognition that we are freed from grasping; that we see the love and compassion in us and can express that to those around us and to all sentient beings.

The feeling I’m having, and in conversations with colleagues and friends what they are experiencing as well, is a unique place in time in this country and in this moment. We are feeling the existential dread of a possible continuation of the Trump Presidency. We are seeing the pain and suffering of those around us on video every day. We watch the challenges faced by people of color and the struggles of every day life, and weep at the terrible nature of our shared existence in the United States, a country based in racism. We try to recover our previous lives only to find them wholly unimportant and recognizing that it was all a system built on distraction and delusion.

…And so, I wrote, in my journal, a simple statement: “it could be that I really need to let go, I mean really let go…to abandon my ego mind and release all ambition and direction. To no longer seek for some solution or resolution. To place an offering into the Universe; a kind of gift to those all around, and then to welcome the unknown.” As I reread these words days later, I felt strongly that it is the grasping at what was that has led to the emptiness I feel. Those old patterns and actions are no longer real enough to support the now collapsed sense of self. We are, it seems, unmoored, no longer tied to some place of solace and free from the constant worry of life. We are adrift, floating with no real direction, wondering if we are the next to get the virus, the next to face the grim, the dark, and the deep.

In this new tarnished life, the one where those bright shiny objects used to hold my attention, I’m wandering, going through the motions, trying desperately to find that solace. Each day has its own struggles and illusions. Sometimes, I even wait for a sign, a signal that this morass is coming to an end…and…and there are moments, fleeting, uncultured moments in which I can see the chance at the kind of freedom I seek. The freedom from the emptiness, replaced with the fullness of mind, the awareness of the struggle, and the compassion to see it through.

Yes, I wander…but for now, it doesn’t quite seem as aimless.

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